Charles Bruce 8th August 1956 - 8th January 2002
Nish Bruce at The Newcastle Show
Apart from performing at British venues such as Cardiff Arms Park, Wembley Stadium and Hyde Park in London, the Red Devils are occasionally invited to jump overseas, for foreign dignitaries and at events such as a football international at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and a Chinese New Year celebration in Hong Kong.
Although the red and black teams perform separately, we mix a lot in the winter months during team training. At least once a year we all go abroad, somewhere warm like Cyprus or the south of France. My first trip is-to Dubai, and we're based in the middle of nowhere because the Queen is due to visit and the local military want us to keep a low profile. They tuck us away in old huts and try to pretend we're not here.
Early on the first morning, helicopters arrive to take us jumping. We're using American Huey's that can get up to 12,000 feet. The pilots are Arabs, and don't seem to appreciate that gas has a tendency to expand as you climb higher and flatulence is a fact of life for skydivers. The first time one of the pilots gets a whiff of the problem, that's it! He lands and orders us to get out.
'You have to be joking!' says Ted Lewington, unable to believe it. They have a heated argument and reach a total impasse. Apparently, It’s a Muslim thing. Finally Ted announces: 'Okay, nobody farts. And that's an order.'
The pilots go off and refuel at midday and tell us they'll be back in the afternoon. We wait and wait but they don't turn up. Later, we find out they've gone to the mosque and then taken the rest of the day off. It becomes the daily routine, so we only get the morning to jump.
One of those other rare occasions when both teams are together is during the annual Newcastle Show, when we're booked to jump twice a day for a week. The teams rotate, with one always available to shoot off and do a few displays elsewhere in the country.
We always stay in a nice hotel on the outskirts of Newcastle - one of those places where the plumbing is too noisy, the beds are too soft and there are a dozen pubs within spitting distance. Most of the lads are single and are a big hit with the local girls. They go out in their ‘mincing kit’ - grey pants, white shirt and blue blazer, with the Red Devils badge on the chest pocket.
At closing time we all go back to the hotel and have an impromptu party, with invited girls, keeping the barman busy until after two in the morning. It's in full swing when, p****d out of my skin, I wander out to the van and put on the gorilla suit. It's a novelty costume for the kids that looks incredibly life-like, although none of us likes jumping in it because there's no ventilation and every time you pull the rip-cord you get a fist- full of fur.
Unfortunately, when I try to get back into the hotel, I've been locked out. The next thing I remember is waking up in a flower-bed opposite the hotel. As I open my eyes there are a dozen policemen staring at me, along with a primate expert from the local zoo and a vet. Two nuns on their way to the convent for five o'clock prayers had stumbled across me and fled in terror. The whole area has been sealed off, and they've even discussed firing a tranquilliser into my furry arse.
Sitting up, I start talking to the police and trying to take off the head. 'Who's your commanding officer?' asks the police sergeant.
'Captain John Street,' I say, lying. I figure if John can come and get me, Captain Mickey Munn, the real team commander, might not have to find out.
The hotel manager is summoned from his bed. Unfortunately, he wakes Mickey instead of John. There are blue flashing lights up and down the street, as well as a fire engine. I'm in trouble, big-time, and Mickey reads me the riot act.
He's forever ranting or raving about something, but he's actually a good bloke. We have a team car, sponsored by Lucas Industries, a 1.3- litre Cortina that goes like s**t off a shovel. Mickey is always complaining that we thrash it to death whenever someone takes it out. One afternoon in the packing room, he launches into a bollocking. 'I f******g know it's you, Bruce, you b******d.'
'But I drive it okay, boss.' 'No, you don't. There's always flies splattered on the windscreen and it's red hot when you get back. You're a maniac, do you hear me? We all know it does a hundred and ten miles an hour, but there's no excuse for driving it that fast.'
'Well, actually, you've got that slightly wrong, sir.'
“What do you mean I’m F*****g wrong? You tell me why I’m wrong.”
“Well, it does a hundred and thirty.”
The place just erupts and even Mickey laughs eventually.
The Red Devils go somewhere warm every spring to practise for the up-coming season. I was invited to join them and decided it was a good opportunity for some extra training for the project. I hired a car and tagged along with Sharky and the boys, doing my own thing while they worked on their displays and occasionally performed around the island. It was a great trip.
On the second last day, in high winds, the boss, Captain Terry Carroll, hooked it in and bounced as he hit the ground at a rate of knots, smashing his pelvis. They shipped him off to hospital and that left Sharky in charge. The next day, I asked him if I could organise a skydive.
'Yeah, I got no problem with that,' he says. 'What about a nude jump?'
'Well, I'm not doing it, but if you think you can get enough lads. .. .'
Sharky had done one of them before, and took the view that while it may seem all virile and exciting in the aircraft, once you step outside, stark naked at 13,500 feet, no matter who you are, you can't .look macho when your manhood shrivels up to nothing.
I put it to the rest of the lads and got ten nude jumpers, including myself. Only the cameraman was allowed to wear a suit because he needed more control in the air to get the pictures. Everyone else on board had to be naked, and that included the pilot, Roger Brown. A gorgeous- looking blonde from Sussex, who worked at a local bar, had come down to the drop zone for the day. She asked if she could come up for the ride.
'Only if you're naked,' I said. 'There are no exceptions; 'Sure, I'm game.'
Roger's eyes lit up at the thought of having this stunning creature sitting naked next to him.
In a quick calculation, we added up the weight of the fuel, the jumpers, the pilot and the girl. It came up just over the odds, so we had to lose someone. The blonde had to go; Roger was gutted.
We walked fully clothed out to the Islander and, once away from the drop zone, started stripping off in the shade of the wings. Glancing up, I noticed the sponsor's name stencilled on the aircraft - the Sun newspaper. What they'd give for a photograph of this, I thought.
One of the guys asked me if I'd ever done this before. Once on a civilian jump in Spain there were two blokes on board who were naked. They talked me into joining them.'
Roger undressed in the cockpit and handed his clothes out the window. The rest of us clambered on board, wearing nothing but parachutes, goggles and grins. The constant stream of banter and blaggarding was eventually drowned out by the noise of the engines. The temperature decreases by two degrees every thousand feet, and it was cold inside the Islander, although nothing like it would be outside in freefall.
When the door opened, we started sliding outside, gripping the hand rail along the side of the fuselage. The jumper in the doorway did a rocking count: ‘Ready … Set …Go!’
That's it! We're away, accelerating through the deep blue towards the olive groves and whitewashed farmhouses below. I managed to close on the formation - only the cameraman remained outside. We fell at about 120 mph, and around me the grinning faces had concave cheeks caused by the rushing wind and hair that darted upwards. How can people not love this sport?
Cyprus is normally a quiet drop zone in the middle of nowhere, but somehow word had got round about the nude jump and women had come from everywhere - wives,girlfriends and spectators. Showing off,
I came in fast and lifted my legs up to slide. Unfortunately, I managed to find the only thistle on the drop zone and turned my backside into a pin cushion. .
Later the Freds sent: me a video of the nude jump, with a warning - For Your Eyes Only!
Photos + video taken by Cpl Dave Mitchell
Photos submitted by Marcus Gardner The Red Devils 1991 - 1993
Nish on ramp of Hercules at Newcastle airport pre demo briefing for the Tyneside Summer Exhibition 1987 photo taken by Neil Dixon
Andy Mc Nab article regarding Nish Click Here!